11 beautiful fossils from Fossil Finder, the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site database of around 1,000 fossils from the Jurassic Coast Museums
The world’s biggest bite
The fossilised head of this pliosaur in the collection of Dorset County Museum is 2.4m long. The entire animal, which patrolled the seas during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, would have been up to 15m long and from fin tip to fin tip it would have measured about 10m wide. It was discovered by local collector, Kevan Sheehan. After discovering three massive pieces of bone, Kevan went back over a five year period to the same spot to recover the rest as it was washed out of a landslide. The fossil, thought to be the best preserved pliosaur skull in the world, is now believed to represent a new species called Pliosaurus kevani – in recognition of the efforts of its finder.
110 million-year-old lobster
This amazing fossil of a lobster from Sidmouth Museum is over 110 million years old – yet it looks exactly like our lobsters today. Not only is it exceptionally well-preserved but it’s also very well-prepared. Removing the surrounding rock from a delicate specimen like this is a highly-skilled and time-consuming task. Crustaceans such as this are occasionally found in the hard sandstone lenses of the Upper Greensand.
240 million year old Chrinoid sea lily
This beautiful specimen of Encrinus liliformis from the Triassic period is in the collection of Lyme Regis Museum. It shows the crinoid’s stalk and crown of arms, which are used for filtering food from the water, wonderfully preserved in three dimensions. Crinoids from the Jurassic Coast are usually flatter than this, as they were not as robust as this specimen from Germany. Lyme Regis Museum has recently been refurbished and their fossil collections updated with new interpretation.
Mammoth pelvic bone
One of a collection of bones, including elephant, hippopotamus and deer, found during the construction of the Honiton bypass in 1965. At no more than 135 thousand years old, these bones are the youngest fossils found in the Jurassic Coast region.
Now in the collection of Allhallows Museum in Honiton, this bone dates to a warm period in the last Ice Age called the Ipswichian interglacial when Southern England had a climate similar to Africa today. The Ice Age was not a single glacial event; it consisted of several very cold periods when ice sheets extended over most of the UK, interspersed with warm periods that were in fact warmer than today. The Ipswichian interglacial is the second from last warm period and roughly dates back to between about 135 and 110 thousand years ago.
A 50 million year old shark tooth
Shark teeth can be very common especially where the London Clay is being eroded by the sea at places such as the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary or the slightly younger Barton Beds at Barton on Sea in Hampshire. However, this specimen from Dorset County Museum is an unlikely find as it was discovered near T E Lawrence’s Cottage in Moreton Wood, Dorset – some seven miles from the coast. Yet, when the clay was formed, this area was under the sea.
Shark teeth are very hard and resistant to erosion, so this one has survived as the underlying clays weathered over thousands of years.
Nautilus – the Living fossil
The nautilus has survived unchanged for millions of years. It’s known as a ‘living fossil’. They can still be found swimming in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but they’re rarely seen because they spend most of their time in very deep water.
In this beautifully-prepared nautilus from Bridport Museum the hollow inside of the shell has been filled with calcite crystal and the shell itself has broken away to expose the chambered structure underneath.
Mystery Triassic reptile
This beautiful specimen was found in Pennington Point, Port Royal, Sidmouth and is now in the collection of Sidmouth Museum. It has been studied and described by a team from Bristol University, but not enough of the specimen survived to enable it to be assigned to a known species or to support a new species.
This Portland roach stone in the collection of Portland Museum contains high-spired snails, Aptyxiella portlandica, also called Portland screws. There are also bivalve shells, visible at the top and right side of image. They are all preserved as internal casts – the shell itself has been dissolved away to reveal the hollow space inside that filled with sediment.
Often beautiful and highly-decorated, bivalves have a triangular shape which gave rise to the old name Trigonia, but they have now been reclassified and given a new name, Myophorella.
This 150 million-year-old specimen from Fairlynch Museum, Budleigh Salterton is a burrowing bivalve that lived in the sediment on the sea bed. Siphons extended through the sediment allowing the animal to suck water into the shell, filter it for food and then exhale, or squirt it back out again.
The photo shows the bivalve from different angles. The right-hand image is upside down – in life, the shell was orientated the other way around and the siphons extended from a gap between the shells.
Three views of a plesiosaur vertebra, almost certainly from the Kimmeridge Clay and now in the collection of Swanage Museum. The neural arch on top of the vertebra (central image) is largely broken off, while the canal in which the spinal chord once ran can clearly be seen in the left-hand image. The holes and pits in the right-hand image (the underside) are where blood vessels ran into the bone.
A 90 million-year-old sea urchin
This beautiful Upper Cretaceous sea urchin shows the lovely detailed structure of the shell. The rounded lumps, or tubercles, are where the spines of the animal were attached to the shell. Such well-preserved specimens like this one at Lyme Regis Museum are not often found.
Visit fossil finder at jurassiccoast.org/fossilfinder/ and search for a particular fossil by its common name, browse by fossil type or use the additional filters to browse by time period, strata, museum, etc.
Buy the Book: Fossils of the Jurassic Coast a 228-page full colour book by Jurassic Coast Programme Manager for Heritage and Conservation, Sam Scriven, offering an engaging perspective on the fossils found on the Jurassic Coast. Priced £14.95.